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Protest Against Recreation Cutbacks Draws Hundreds To Brandon Rally

Rally organizers told attendees they needed to call and email Hillsborough County Commissioners and tell them “this is what the people want.” The rally was in protest of after-school programming cuts and recreation center closings.

Opponents of a plan to eliminate after-school programs at Brandon recreation centers and close most of those centers say they are confident they have enough votes on the Hillsborough County Commission to defeat the plan.

“Don’t let them tell you it’s over. We can do it,” Terry O’Grady told a standing-room crowd at the Brandon Recreation Center on Thursday night, Aug. 11.

Parents, children, seniors and parks workers packed the center for the boisterous rally, which drew more than 300 people.

Undaunted by a 4-3 commission vote in July to cut after-school programs and mothball services at 31 of the county’s 42 recreation centers, rally organizers said they thought they could save the after-school programs and the majority of recreation centers.

“We have three commissioners on our side now, and we have two more who are coming,” O’Grady told the cheering crowd. “We can do this, but you need to get on the phone tomorrow and call the commissioners. You need to email them. You need to let them know this is what the people want."

O’Grady also criticized the makeup of a roundtable committee that came up with the cuts. The committee said the 1,800 children in the program could be absorbed by the school district’s after-school program and by the YMCA and other after-school care programs.

That may be difficult in Brandon. The YMCA has already said it doesn’t for an after-school program.

“This roundtable included people from the school district and the YMCA, but did they didn’t include the voices of parents," O'Grady said. "Tonight, they are hearing the voice of the parents.”

O’Grady and his supporters are backing the plan proposed by County Commissioner Ken Hagan.

The Hagan Hybrid would keep more recreation centers staffed and keep the after-school program at those centers. The county commission will consider the idea Aug. 24. Hagan crafted his hybrid plan with input from O’Grady, a Valrico businessman who presented his to the commission last month.   

O’Grady said he thought Commissioners Kevin Beckner and Sandra Murman — both of whom voted to eliminate the after-school program last month — could now for vote for the Hagan Hybrid.

Melissa Lord of Brandon has one child in the after-school program and said she faced difficult choices if the after-school program closes its doors.

“Do I leave my job?" Lord asked. "Do I ask my 80-year-old father to look after my child? There are after-care programs out there, but they are very expensive. I think you will see a lot of kids end up as latch-key children if this happens."

Tina Chamberlin drove from Apollo Beach for the rally. She said she feared that closing her local recreation center would hurt her two young boys.

“They learn to play sports," Chamberlin said. "They learn team building. They learn about leadership and how to follow directions. If it wasn’t for the recreation center, they might sit at home all day during the summer just watching TV.”

Also at the meeting, a petition protesting the vote to abandon after-school programming and to close recreation centers drews hundreds of signatures. More than 2,000 people have now signed the petition, according to rally organizers.

The meeting ended as it began: loud and raucous and optimistic.

“This is a revival tonight,” thundered Jack O’Grady, Terry O’Grady’s brother. “We are going to take back our government and let them know that we want to keep our after-school program, and if they don’t, we will vote them out. They need to hear our voice.”

Said Terry O’Grady: “It was a great turnout tonight. This is just the beginning.”

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  •  Airing
Jan Walker August 12, 2011 at 12:43 PM
The Tax payers cant afford to take care of your children. You have to make your own arrangements.
Elizabeth Belcher August 12, 2011 at 10:31 PM
What do you want to bet that the only after school programs that will be kept are those in Brandon? EVERY after school program should be funded.
John O'Grady August 21, 2011 at 09:43 PM
(corrected) Jan Walker I suggest you take a course in remedial reading. qqqqq good suggestion but once you learn all the facts you will see that is not necessary. The parents are asking for the county to keep a program open that they pay for ALL the labor costs and then some. The county wants to get rid of the position because Mark Thornton who makes over $125,000 a year stated he "does not want to be a babysitter". He wants the county parks and recration "out of the childcare business" and to get more into, his perception of the core mission, and that is large regional parks. He and Merrill have tried to make it appear that this is about cutting costs and government in a dishonest attempt to get the taxpayers and voters to support their plan. They repeatedly have put false information out to the press, who eagerly regergitated it and to the public, while keeping very quiet on how under Mark Thorton's leadership he mismanaged the recreation program costing the taxpayers over $1,000,000 (MILLION) dollars. The money he lost inevitably is leading to additional job loses and cuts. Take back your government. Call your commissioners TODAY! and tell them to implement the Terry O'Grady after school hybrid plan (which by the way Elizabeth Belcher is not just a Brandon fix but is a a 30 park county wide solution) and to direct Mr Merrill (county administrator) to fire Mark Thornton. These are your parks, your programs, your tax dollars; it is time you had a say in what it is going on.

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